Syria Digest: November 25, 2020

(7 minute read)

Syria in the Nation's Capital

Caesar Act: Last week, the House approved bipartisan legislation that if passed by the Senate could subject Russian-backed allies in Libya to sanctions over its support and cooperation with the Assad regime. Approved by voice vote, the Libya Stabilization Act (HR 4644) includes a provision requiring the White House submit a list of members of the Libyan National Army loyal to Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar to be designated pursuant to the Caesar Act (P.L. 116-92) and a 2011 executive order. In March, Haftar’s regime agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Damascus, signing an agreement to confront “Turkish aggression” in Libya and Syria.    

Justice Rewards Legislation: Last week, lawmakers unanimously approved a measure (HR 4802) that would authorize financial rewards for information regarding individuals or entities engaged in activities that violate U.S. and international sanctions. During floor debate, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) who introduced the measure, and Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) in their remarks highlighted that the legislation was inspired by Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian diplomat and defector, who provided information on Assad regime officials and allies who violate U.S. sanctions. “I thank Bassam Barabandi for his courage as a patriot for the people of Syria in the face of the evil Assad regime”, said Wilson. 

ISIS Detainee Threat: The head of the U.S. Central Command, Maj. Gen. Frank McKenzie Jr., reiterated that unless the global community repatriates citizens who traveled to Syria to fight for ISIS, the group will remain an everlasting security threat. Speaking at a conference hosted by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, McKenzie intoned ISIS’ propaganda activities in refugee camps in Syria and Iraq targeting children poses a strategic problem 10 years ahead when they grow up radicalized. If this issue is not addressed then ISIS will never be defeated, he said. 

Syria at the UN and Abroad

UN Resolution on Syria: The United Nations Third Committee approved a draft resolution for consideration by the General Assembly addressing human rights concerns in Syria. By a vote of 99 to 13, with 61 abstentions, the draft strongly condemns the Assad regime’s systematic, widespread and gross violations of international human rights law in Syria and indiscriminate attacks against civilians. Speaking in support of the measure U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said that the resolution would allow the Third Committee to hold a dialogue with the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria that paves the way to present its findings to members of the General Assembly. 

Taiwan Aid to Syria: Taiwan has agreed to provide funding for a U.S. stabilization program in eastern Syria. A donation of $500,000 will be made to finance the Injaz program, a project to support moderate education activities in areas liberated from ISIS. This program includes initiatives rehabilitating water, sanitation and hygiene facilities at schools, winterizing classrooms, and providing remedial education to displaced children who do not have access to formal education.   

ISIS Detainee and UK: The legal right of the British government to deny the return of an individual stripped of their citizenship will soon be determined. The UK’s Supreme Court heard arguments that Shamima Begum, who traveled into Syria from Turkey in 2015 to join ISIS, posed a national security risk. The high court has to decide whether to uphold a Court of Appeals ruling that Begum be allowed to return home to legally challenge the Home Office’s stripping of her citizenship last year. If the ruling stands it will reportedly invalidate the UK's policy of excluding some British-born ISIS supporters by depriving them of their nationality once they're out of the country.

Syria on the Ground

Israeli Airstrikes: Over the weekend Iranian-backed militias stationed in al-Bukamal east of Deir Ezzor were subject to airstrikes that left 14 dead. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the soldiers were of Iraqi and Afghan origin, and that two positions and vehicles were destroyed. An Israeli military official informed Reuters another set of airstrikes prior to the incident took place that struck eight targets, including an Iranian headquarters at Damascus international airport and a “secret military site” that served as a hosting facility for senior Iranian delegations who travel to Syria. 

Turkish Buildup in Idlib: Sources on the ground cited the presence of a group of Turkish military convoys entering northwest Syria over the weekend to reinforce military posts in Idlib. North Post reported over 100 armored vehicles and 50 tanks were being deployed to areas that included a new military base established on Zawiya Mountain just two miles from the frontlines of pro-regime forces. This action came in light of pro-regime artillery and missile shelling on the towns of al-Bara, Baluon, and Kansafra near the base.   

Detainee Release Reform: The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) recently announced it will reform the process that allows Syrian detainees in al-Hol camp who wish to leave secure their release. Detainees previously would be unable to leave al-Hol unless authorities running the camp received “claims and guarantees by notables and tribal sheiks.“ Under the new protocols, detainees are allowed to leave voluntarily from al-Hol upon submitting certain documents and identification papers. The SDC estimates that al-Hol’s population stands at 64,000, comprising of 30,600 Iraqis and 24,000 displaced Syrians.        

Humanitarian Work and Civil Society in Syria

We are proud to be highlighting the work of humanitarian and civil society groups both outside and within Syria that are striving for a free Syria. 

Gandhi Peace Prize Awarded: On Sunday, the top U.S. peace prize was awarded to MedGlobal president Dr. Zaher Sahloul and White Helmets leader Mayson Almisri. This year’s award, which is awarded by Promoting Enduring Peace, recognized the extraordinary work of Syrian medical and rescue workers. The virtual ceremony included participation by a coalition of humanitarian and human rights organizations, as well as musical performances.

For Sama Wins International Emmy: Waad Al-Kateab’s Oscar-nominated documentary For Sama has added an International Emmy Award in Best Documentary to its list of accolades. Co-director Al-Kateab said on the win that “this award is for Syria. People usually say For Sama is hard to watch, but the reality is harder. Join us in Action For Sama to turn our feelings and frustration into action”. Action for Sama is a non-profit organization that seeks to end the deliberate targeting of healthcare facilities in Syria. 

Syrian Seeds Research: How the actions by the International Center for Agricultural Research to save seeds from their gene bank in Tel Hadia, Syria in 2014 have led to scientific advances in agriculture production was the subject of a profile in Wired. The piece documents how the seeds were first moved to a frigid facility on an Arctic island for future use in research projects in Lebanon and Morocco beginning in 2015.    



Syrian Activists Fear COVID-19 Outbreak in Syria’s Underground Prisons”: With the surging COVID-19 cases, Syrian activists detail their fears of an unchecked outbreak in Assad’s dungeons to Nisan Ahmado for an article in Voice of America.

Russia Wants to Trade Syrian Refugees for Money”: Anchal Vohra writes for Foreign Policy on the failure of the recent international refugee return conference organized by Russia and Syria. 

Hunger and COVID-19: Syrians are Facing Overlapping Humanitarian Crises”: The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre delves into the increasing hunger and COVID-19 crisis in Syria, arguing for the  need for action by the international community.

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